To Retain Or Not To Retain: A Seasonal Question

Every year, parents of children who are not quite meeting grade-based standards are faced with the dilemma of choosing to hold their child back or promote them on to the next grade. School districts often have one set of perspectives while parents have another. With No Child Left Behind, a greater number of children are being retained, despite consistent research that demonstrates the lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of repeating a grade. Although some students may initially demonstrate academic improvement, over time, those “gains” are not maintained and in fact, it would seem that they often perform worse when compared to similar students who were not retained. The negative effects of grade retention range from poor social adjustment and difficulty with peer relationships to a higher high school dropout rate compared with other groups and often, long-term problems with adjustment, employment and at risk behavior.

Rather than hope that a second round of the same curriculum will produce the desired effect, alternative, evidence-based interventions that will enhance students’ competence across the spectrum of skills are needed. There are workgroups in a number of the schools of education who are actively working on programs targeted towards improving the performance and experience of low-achieving students. A number of key features have been identified, including parent involvement, culturally-sensitive outreach, tutoring and individual enrichment strategies, systematic assessment, school-based mental health, multidisciplinary student support teams, mentoring programs, extended school year and extended days, better integration of all education programs within a school site and opportunities for all stakeholders to play a role in creating an environment where each student experiences success.

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